This is a story about endurance.
In 1962 Alderwoman Vel Phillips submitted her fair housing legislation to the Milwaukee Common Council. Between the years of 1963 and 1967, Phillips would reintroduce the fair housing bill three additional times, only to have it defeated each time. But Phillips was not alone in the fight for housing equality. Led by the NAACP Youth Council and their adviser, Father James Groppi, Milwaukeeans demonstrated for 200 consecutive nights. Marching from the city’s North Side, across the 16th Street Bridge, civil rights protesters were met by jeering, violent crowds when the reached the predominantly white South Side.
On September 19, 1967, when Alderwoman Phillips resubmitted her open housing ordinance, she informed her colleagues that movement was just getting started. She warned, “There are no longer excuses for inaction or delay. Those people that come every day to St. Boniface Church–and they come from all over the country–come there with the idea that nobody is free until everybody is free. And we intend to march, all of us, until we get some of the basic freedoms that are ours.”
The marches continued through October, past November, and did not cease until March 14th, 1968. This act of determination, courage, and love is particularly moving when one considers that demonstrators not only faced violence from counter protesters, they braved the bitter chill of winter for a better Milwaukee.
On September 19, 50 years ago, dedicated citizens marched across the city in unforgiving conditions. They marched the following night. And the night after that.
An exhibit in the UWM Libraries’ Daniel M. Soref Learning Commons explores the story of of Milwaukee’s fair housing marches using books and materials from the UWM Archives as well as historical weather data from December of 1967 through February of 1968.
The exhibit, which runs from December 1, 2017 to January 31, 2018, was designed and assembled by the UWM Libraries Diversity Advisory Committee with cooperation from the UWM Archives.
For more information about the exhibit, contact the Heidi Anoszko at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the history of civil rights activism in Milwaukee and to help build the Milwaukee we need visit http://200nightsoffreedom.org/